Friday, 20 April 2012


I'm revisting the art of Scottish illustrator Jessie M. King (March 20, 1875 – August 3, 1949).

At the time of The Great War, or just before, many artists created works of poignant sweetness and although they are beautiful there is something heartbreaking about them too. As if within that sweetness lay the last shreds of Hope.

These artists were keenly aware of nature and interested in the conservation of buildings, places and art.  Through time we learn, forget and relearn their lessons.

In this troubled time of ours, with financial problems faced by many and war around the globe interest has rekindled in these artists with their simple, childlike message of joy and comfort in daily life.

Jessie's art is similar to another favourite of mine, Annie French, in it's lightness of hand and semblance to Gustav Klimt with the build up of colour and texture like tiny jewels scattered on the page.

From the Christmas Supplement of The Studio.

Many of Jessie's paintings are done in such pale shades and so light a hand that they seem translucent. An ethereal light illuminates all of her work.

Time has faded some of her creations though so it is hard to tell whether she meant to create in such pastel shades.

The Lambs

My favourite painting of hers is this one. She used slightly brighter colours here and captures all the joy of summer pleasures.  The Jessie M King blog says this about it: "This work was done for John Drinkwater's poem 'Holiness' using pen, ink, and color wash on paper."

If all the cats were painted gay - 1930

Pictures 2 and 3 are from the Jessie M King blog which is a wonderful tribute to her and a great resource of information. Have a read:

Jessie M King

This is an entry for her at Junker's Rare Books, written in 2003. They have some of her work for sale, it is well beyond the means of a mere working lady such as I, but it's price reflects it's rarity and beauty.

"Jessie Marion King was the fourth daughter born to a cleric’s family in a Glasgow suburb. Against the wishes of her parents, she enrolled in the Glasgow school of Art at the age of 17 where she was taught with Charles Rennie Mackintosh and heavily influenced by Art Nouveau and the developing ‘Glasgow Style’.  Illustrating over 100 books she has been described as the ‘most important Scottish illustrator of the Twentieth Century’ (Colin White).

The design for L’Evangile de L’enfance (1894) was one of the pieces that brought King into the public eye. Displayed at the 1902 Turin Exhibition, this binding won King the gold medal for book design.

King went on to design a beautiful vellucent binding for The Story of Rosalynde in 1902 for Cedric Chivers. The book is bound in full vellum with intricate designs to both covers and spine in ink and water-colour. The main image depicts two graceful knights in armour kneeling at the foot of an immense rose tree. The binding is heightened by gilt lines and an inverted Mother of Pearl heart shaped inlay. Completed in the period when Jessie was both student and teacher at the Glasgow School of Art this work is typical of the high quality detailed designs she produced in the early 1900’s.

During this time Jessie also produced numerous intricate line drawings displaying an impressive capturing of shadows and fine detail. Dwellings of An Old World Town (1909), comprising of drawings of Culcross and Fifeshire, is typical of the style of books she had published at this time.
Plate from Seven Happy DaysAs her work developed, King began to use a gentler style. An example of this can be seen in The Studio (1913) which contains King’s popular Christmas Supplement Seven Happy Days. The colours used for this are lovely pastel shades all highlighted with glints of silver or gold. The book also contains eight line drawings with the same very delicate beauty.

At the start of World War 1, after spending seven years living in Paris, King and her husband, EA Taylor, decided to move back to Scotland. They settled in Kirkudbright where many of her famous drawings are set. Having illustrated books on Glasgow and Edinburgh, King now began work on Kircudbright A Royal Burgh (1934). With pictorial Japon wrappers, the book contains 18 black and white detailed line drawings and illustrates the beauty of the town. King writes in her foreword:

‘Perhaps it is only the hand of the artist that can save for the future the beauty in danger of being demolished and it lies with the fraternity to see that the romance of this old world town set in her historic stones does not become entirely a thing of the past.’

As King’s popularity grew after World War 1, she ceased producing gossamer drawings and began work with new materials such as batik, pottery and jewellery. In her book How Cinderella was Able to go the Ball, Cinderella is forced to make her own batik gown. The process of how this was executed is illustrated beautifully in vibrant colours throughout. "

Junkers Books

Jessie not only illustrated books but turned her hand to murals, she designed ceramics, fabric, textiles, jewelry and greeting cards.

A necklace made by her, from the in depth book abut her, The Enchanted World of Jessie M King by Colin White.

Very occasionally one of her pieces comes up for auction on ebay. This little bowl is typical, simple yet joyful.  Hand decorated inside and out, it has her signature and her symbols of a rabbit and a gate.

This piece is unusual, I've never seen one, it is a honeycomb jar.

This is a typical painted ceramic by Jessie M King. She developed this line of painted pottery from 1920, and it was one of her main sources of income. She purchased the ceramics in 'biscuit' state then painted on her designs and sent the ware back to the ceramic manufacturer for glazing.

Floral painted ceramic box with a seperate lid having the form of a bee as its handle. The box has the verses 'Kissing is out of Fashion / When the Whin is out of Blossom', around the top of the four sides of the box. The work has her marks on the base - a rabbit, a green gate and the initials 'JMK'.
Place of Production:
width 140mm, height 140mm, depth 140mm"
The Stewartry Museum


  1. What beautiful work - and ethereal seems to be the best word for it - even the more solid pieces of pottery and ceramic.
    I enjoyed learning about Jessie King

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about Jessie, her work is very special. Thank you for stopping by! x

  2. What an interesting post, thank you so much for sharing ...I love the little bowl. Have a lovely weekend. Sharonx

  3. OOh, how lovely i come to visit and find you are featuring my most favourite of artists, and has been since i was in my teens. I live a stones throw from the town she lived in and it is a real pleasure to be able to visit the museum and see some of her work in real life. ps: and thank you for you beautiful words on what brings you peace on my blog, it is indeed a poignant & precious lesson to learn just how dear life is. x ruthie x

    1. Ruthie, I think her work has a similar spirit to yours. I am so jealous that you can visit the museum, her work must be even more touching in real life. One day I will get there! x

  4. i love your black cat, i think she is really beautiful :)

    1. Thank you! Mrs Black is our inspiration. She has come a long way since she was a street cat.


  5. Totally enlightening, so much to learn here, thank you! N.xo

  6. Thank you treasure, that is the biggest complement! Yes, Jessies work is so stunning in real life, the coulours seem richer & the detailing is incredible, just beautiful. MAybe one day you will get to visit x


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